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Woody Allen finds romance in ‘Barcelona’

Overseas trips are less of a rarity these days for filmmaker Woody Allen, who for decades dreaded crossing the Hudson River.
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Overseas trips are less of a rarity these days for filmmaker Woody Allen, who for decades dreaded crossing the Hudson River.

His latest excursion will find Allen at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France, accompanying his out-of-competition feature “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” which stars Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Before the festival, Allen spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.

The Hollywood Reporter: You wrote “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” with Penelope Cruz in mind. What’s the tone audiences can expect?

Woody Allen: I was going to write something based in Barcelona, and I knew that Penelope wanted to do the movie — this was a great incentive for me. It’s not a comedy in the sense “Sleeper” was. It’s about relationships, and to the degree that anything amusing happens, that’s fine, but it’s a romantic film more than anything else.

THR: Do you show the scripts in advance to your financiers?

Allen: No. Nobody sees anything ever. I have to raise money with the proviso that everything is under my control and that not everybody needs the script. And there are people who are willing to put up the money under those circumstances and people who are not.

THR: How has that affected getting your films made?

Allen: It hasn’t affected them getting made or created any stumbling blocks. My movies are very inexpensive. I don’t know that I could raise $30 or $40 million to make a movie without them wanting to read something, but my budgets are more in the $15 million area. And I have a reputation for being reasonably sane over many, many years. So they take a chance.

THR: Do you ever concern yourself with box office?

Allen: No, I’ve never played that game because it’s a very, very doubled-edged sword — the ‘hit-flop’ syndrome, where you have a tremendous hit and then suddenly you get one or two that aren’t and you’re out. I work quietly, by myself, with small budgets. I’m not a big risk. If my film is a disaster, they lose a couple of bucks, so it doesn’t mean that much to them. If you take all my pictures over the years, I’ve been a profitable investment, particularly as they’ve gotten into ancillary markets like DVD and television and foreign distribution. Even my most controversial dramatic films that haven’t done well here made a little in France, a little in Germany, a little in DVD sales.

THR: You’ve gotten acclaim for your dramatic work in the latter part of your career. Still, there are people pushing you to do more comedy. How do you feel about that?

Allen: Maybe I’m wrong, but my feeling is probably if I did a film tomorrow like “Take the Money and Run,” people would be surprised, but in not a positive way. They would have some kind of disappointment. I’ve gone on to make deeper films and feel they prefer them. Some people tell me their favorite is “Bananas” or “Interiors” or “Annie Hall.” It’s very personal. That’s why many years ago I stopped reading reviews. There were so many disparate opinions, all valid and correct. You can’t concern yourself with it. You learn nothing. You go nuts.

THR: How would you say that you’re different as a filmmaker now than five or 10 years ago?

Allen: You do develop a certain amount of technique working with different cameramen, but basically films change only to the degree that you’ve grown as a person or shrank. That’s reflected in my films, for better or worse — what I’ve lived through, what I’ve read, how the world has changed. I’ve been a happier person. I’ve been more family oriented. I have two daughters, so I’ve had a more domestic life. I’ve spent a lot of time being a father, and it’s been a positive experience. But from 62 to 72, I don’t know that much has changed except in my arteries.

THR: You talked years ago about how you may not ever make that one masterpiece. Is that something you’re still aiming for?

Allen: That’s become an obsessive thing — when you finish a film you set out to make it with the grandest intent, then you see how miserable you failed and can’t wait to get to the next film to correct that. It’s like somebody in Vegas who’s losing and keeps frantically doubling the bet to try and get out of the hole and get back even. I try to work harder to make a better film and I get myself in a deeper hole and this goes on and on and on. I’ve always tried to make a terrific film, but it’s eluded me over the years.

THR: What are your favorites now, and have they changed as time goes by?

Allen: They haven’t changed too much. I’ve always liked “Husbands and Wives,” always liked “Purple Rose (of Cairo)” and “Bullets (Over Broadway),” like “(Broadway) Danny Rose” and “Zelig.” I liked “Match Point” a lot. Recently I liked “Cassandra’s Dream.” A lot of the films the public has embraced haven’t been among my personal favorites. I always feel best about films of mine where I get an idea that comes straight to me and I bring the idea off. When that happens I feel great, and if audiences didn’t come, it didn’t matter to me because I thought, “Wow I did a great job!” Other times I made films I that didn’t really work for me, and audiences have loved them. I get none of the pleasure from “Hannah and Her Sisters” that the audiences did.

THR: You haven’t acted in your last few films, or the one you’re shooting now in Manhattan with Larry David. Is that something you’re phasing out?

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THR: Does that factor into your writing in any way?

Allen: No, it’s all about the story. It’s hard enough to get a story that works.

THR: Do you ever see yourself retiring, or do you want to keep working like Robert Altman did?

Allen: I probably, at the moment, see myself just working indefinitely like William Wyler. The inevitable will happen one day where I won’t be able to raise any money, and then I’ll move into some other area like playwriting or novels, but right now as long as people are willing to finance them, I’ll keep making them.

THR: So if they keep financing your films to the very end, you’ll keep going to a film set?

Allen: So you think there’s a very end?